Farm of the Week: Tasty work in rearing pigs

Pig and arable farmer Ian Broumpton, of Stanstead Grange Farm, holding a week old piglet.  Pic: James Hardisty
Pig and arable farmer Ian Broumpton, of Stanstead Grange Farm, holding a week old piglet. Pic: James Hardisty
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PRICE VOLATILITY has long been associated with the pig sector but for Ian Broumpton of Stanstead Grange, Brandesburton in the East Riding the recent past has been good news and he has grown his herd to 280 sows.

Ian farms 120 acres growing wheat, barley and oilseed rape. He describes his land as quite fit as first wheats average around 4.5 to 5 tonnes per acre on land that varies from sand to loam, but it’s the pigs that make up 90 per cent of his turnover.

All decisions are discussed with son Daniel. Ian has one other man on the farm, his good friend Nick Warley. He’s in a buoyant mood at present even though the price has fallen recently.

“The pig trade used to be very much up and down but the past six years have been the best we’ve ever had. This year will be more difficult because the bacon pig price is down about £25 per pig. We’ve been selling between 100-110 pigs a week at around 80kgs and we were selling at £1.70/kg last year. We will carry it but we won’t make any money at those levels this year.”

Ian understands the reasons behind the current drop in price and is philosophical about the position. He sees how he can advance his business in these conditions.

“We’re fighting the Russian embargo that has certainly had an effect and also the value of the pound against the Euro. The latter is having a profound effect as it is making foreign pig meat very cheap. Fortunately we now have a lot more followers in the UK who will buy British even if it is more expensive.

“The most difficult thing we have had to endure is misleading labelling where the shopper thinks something is British because it has a union jack on the packaging. You have to look carefully because that may not mean it is British reared, often it may just have been packaged or processed in the UK.

“Usually when the pig trade is bad it’s then that we have an increase in our herd size. It costs you a little more at the time but at least you can get your money back pretty quickly when you hit the peak and have more pigs to sell.”

Ian’s pig farming operation is impressive. He has invested heavily in new buildings and intends to invest further.

“We’ve spent £400,000 in the last five-and-a-half years just on buildings and the idea is to gradually increase the herd size. At the moment we only fatten about 50 per cent of our pigs on site and use two farms to bed and breakfast the others at Seaton and Halsham. We would like to have everything here eventually. The pigs have a comfortable, warm environment with fully slatted farrowing, weaner and fattening houses. Slats provide a much healthier environment and the pigs are far happier than they would be paddling around in inches of mud, blather and the freezing cold.”

Ian is also a firm believer in farrowing crates for the sows, but not just as a management aide in protecting piglets

‘There is a lot of talk about freedom in farrowing but the mortality rate is too high. The one thing that annoys me more than anything else when people talk about freedom in farrowing is the protection for the person looking after the animals. Sows with litters can get angry and while the sow is in a crate the pig person is safe. If they are loose I guarantee that one day someone will get severely maimed by an aggressive sow. Until that happens no-one will wake up to that.”

At one time the call was for producing lean meat with little fat. In recent years there has been a move back towards fat as public opinion was that mass produced pork was becoming like cardboard.

“Our contract used to be for a 12mm fat probe and that’s now 14mm. Over the years pigs have been bred for lean meat because that was perceived to be what the public wanted. Nowadays fat content is important and it certainly does add to the flavour.

“I’m a food lover and very much a pork lover. I also cook and invent pork dishes. I have my own pork curry recipe and we run pork promotion nights at the Dacre Arms pub in Brandesburton where I provide their chef with all my own recipes.

“I think that on the whole we’re very bad at producing good pork dishes in restaurants. As well as our main contract where most of our pigs go I also supply local businesses such as the Dacre Arms with belly pork, pork chops and legs of pork; local hotel the Burton Lodge with sausages and bacon; hog roast company Piglicious; James White’s butcher’s shop in Cranswick; other establishments and sell direct from the farm.

“We have a butcher Nigel Barnett of Yorkshire Wolds Sausages in Kelleythorpe who cures all our meats. We sell everything on the quality of what we produce.”

Ian’s pigs are from ACMC breeding stock. He uses an EC (Extreme Conformation) boar that gives a healthy meat yield and the female line is a tri-cross of Large White, Landrace and Chinese breed Meidam. His sows average 2.4 litters per year with 13 pigs per litter. He sells 26-27 pigs per sow per year. Herd replacement is at the rate of 40 per cent per year and cull sows are sold at Dunswell Livestock Market every two to three weeks. Most pigs go to Cranswick Country Foods.

Away from the farm Ian is just as competitive as he is at home. While his herd has won various titles and he was named Pig Farmer of the Year in 2012, cricket is a real passion. He won 96 winners’ medals during his cricket career and became the oldest ever Brandesburton batsman to achieve his first 100 in the same season that his son Daniel became the youngest ever to achieve the same feat at just 14. Ian moved into umpiring after two hip replacements and became Umpire of the Year in 2012.

“Life is competitive and if you want to succeed you have to compete hard. I enter into everything wholeheartedly.”